This past Saturday, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) was smacked down by the Republican Party of her own state. In a straw poll of the members of the Wyoming GOP central committee, Cheney drew only six votes compared to 59 for her main challenger in the Republican primary, the Donald Trump-endorsed Harriet Hageman. The state party is not allowed to endorse a candidate in a primary contest, but this was a clear sign where it stands and no surprise, given that the state party censured Cheney for her vote to impeach Trump last year. But Cheney is up against more than the former guy and her onetime state comrades. Big-money GOP donors are flocking to Hageman. And with that cash, Hageman, a conservative lawyer who has battled environmentalists and who in 2016 rapped Trump for being a bigot and plotted against him at the GOP convention, has hired as campaign consultants former top Trump aides, including Bill Stepien, who managed Trump’s reelection bid, and Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for that campaign.
One prominent name on the list of Hageman’s financial backers is Jay Kemmerer, who owns the historic Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming, a mecca for skiers from around the globe. He and his wife Karen maxed out to Hageman last fall with a combined donation of $11,600. But there’s much more they can do by contributing money to PACs and independent groups that support Hageman. And Kemmerer has demonstrated he’s willing and eager to spend great amounts of money to serve Trump’s agenda—and in 2022 one of Trump’s top priorities is crushing Cheney.
In 2020 and 2021, Kemmerer donated over $1 million to Trump, other GOP candidates, and various Republican Party entities, according to Federal Election Commission filings. And he has provided succor to the most extreme wing of the party—and taken flak for it. In August, Kemmerer and his wife co-hosted a fundraiser in Jackson Hole for the House Freedom Caucus, the group of far-right and ultra-Trumpish House Republicans. The event, held at a posh hotel, featured Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Mark Meadows, Trump’s former White House chief of staff. The price of admission to hobnob with the QAnonish Greene and the Big Lie-promoting Jordan: $2,000 per couple. (One local tea party activist complained he couldn’t attend because of this steep price.)
Another co-host of the event, Dan Brophy, a retired commodities trader and archconservative, has been a prominent and prodigious donor to state Republican candidates, particularly conservatives challenging GOP moderates. In 2019, Brophy opposed a proposed state law that would protect workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and he compared homosexuality to incest. In an email to Wyoming legislators, he wrote, “Once these special rights are Wyoming law, which new groups will demand special rights tomorrow? Polygamists? Relatives attracted to relatives? Adults attracted to children? Fathers wanting to marry daughters? These are all ‘sexual orientations.'” Brophy has been an angry voice in Wyoming supporting Trump’s baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Last year, he wrote a column blasting Cheney for daring to accept the election results: “From my own research, I knew within ten days that stunning fraud had been committed… We are not foolish dupes. We are witness to the naked theft of our republic!” He donated $35,000 to Trump and the Republican National Committee in 2020.
A third co-host of the Jordan-Greene-Meadows soirée, Peter Lamelas, donated $10,000 to House Freedom Action, a political action committee associated with the House Freedom Caucus. Lamelas and Brophy have also contributed to Hageman.
The fundraiser for the House Freedom extremists sparked a local protest, with a small crowd of demonstrators outside the event calling for a boycott of Kemmerer’s ski resort. But the big clash came with Patagonia. Two weeks after the fundraiser, the clothing company announced it will no longer supply its products to the Jackson Hole resort. As a mission statement, Patagonia says, “We’re in business to save our home planet,” and it has supported various environmental causes and the Black Lives Matter movement. The decision to cut off Kemmerer’s resort, a Patagonia spokesperson said, was based on “our really strong commitment to using both our business and our brand to advocate for our strong priorities. When there’s a misalignment on that, then we take action.” She noted that the resort “is our largest customer in an area that’s really critical. That tells you something about the importance of this relationship. We don’t take ending it lightly.”
In an act of damage control, independent members of the board of directors for Kemmerer’s resort published a guest column in a local newspaper pointing out the board included “Democrat, Republican and Independent, moderate, liberal and conservative—just like America, and just like our employees and guests… [W]e believe that diversity is good for our company, our community, and our country.”
Kemmerer responded to the Patagonia pullout with a letter to the resort staff defending his right to express his “personal beliefs and values” and promising a renewed commitment to “reducing environmental impact” at the resort. “The [political] contributions I make,” he wrote, “are what I believe are in the best interests of America, a Country I love with all my heart.” Shortly after sending this letter, Kemmerer and his wife wrote that big check for Hageman.
Cheney is up against a lot, as she tries to remain the sole House member representing Wyoming, a position her father once held. With her fierce stand against Trump and her prominent role on the House select committee investigating the insurrectionist attack on the US Capitol, she might well be sacrificing her political career. But as a skier who owns a house in Jackson Hole, does she now also have to eschew some of the best slopes in the country?